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21W.022 (Marx): Personal Investigative Essay


Reading and Writing Autobiography, 2016 (Lucy Marx)

The Personal Investigative Essay


“Write about what you don’t know about what you do know.”

Eudora Welty


For this assignment you will not be writing a “straight” autobiographical narrative but a personal investigative essay (PIE), in which you ask a question rooted in your personal experience, and try to deepen your understanding of it through research, thinking, and writing. In one way, you do know your own experience intimately; you’ve lived it. But you don’t fully understand it; we never do. So, in a very real sense, you will be writing about “what you don’t know about what you do know” to understand your experience better, and to present to your readers what you know from experience and what you’ve learned from your investigation.


Where will you get? That’s really up for grabs. What matters is how you bring us along as you move forward with your thinking, letting us share in your process of coming to some new understanding. However, that understanding might just be a more developed, more well-informed, question and not an answer at all.


As with your memoir, the work for your PIE will be broken down into shorter assignments as you focus on a topic, seek source material, and write a first version. You will have opportunities to consult with writing advisors in the Writing Center, and you will consult with a librarian whose expertise matches your interests.